Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Here we go again - the Stanchart cheating accusation kerfuffle

Remember last year, when some dodo actually cheated during the flagship Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon and found himself in first place? 

This year's 'cheating' 'scandal' is a little different. Blogger and race photographer Tekko, who is himself also a runner, posted this. (Yes, it's the same dude whom I wrote about in this post last year, but this time it goes a little beyond glam race shots.) The long and short of it:
- He was shooting photos near the 35km mark and noticed some people who didn't look like they belonged there that early. 
"As a regular runner and active photographer for the past years, I can recognise a fair number of the local runners who can do sub-4 and there aren't really a lot of them here in Singapore. And even if I don't recognise them, I can tell by the way they run that they are seasoned runners and used to that type of timing. But what was interesting this time was that I could see many unfamiliar faces and people who pardoned my saying so, do not look like runners who are capable of doing this type of timing. Now I know looks can be deceiving but it is kinda difficult to believe that these following people can run sub 4 marathon."
- So he posted their photos and split/ finish times and basically accused them of cheating.
- The post got a massive amount of attention from the local running community, which after last year is already aggrieved enough about runners who cheat. (I mean, lord knows I am. @#%(& cheaterbugs.) 
- HOWEVER, it turns out that the runners he internet-shamed were actually redirected by race organisers through no fault of their own, after they'd failed to meet a cutoff time along the route. 
- Yesterday he retracted the accusation and apologised in a subsequent post.

A couple of thoughts about this whole situation: 

1. Yes, it's cyberbullying. Sure, he retracted it later and apologised. Still cyberbullying. In professional journalism, if you say someone is cheating you better be damn sure of your sources and check-doublecheck-confirm-doubleconfirm. A lot of bloggers and internet armchair critics, of whom I am one, could stand to be more responsible before they point fingers.  

2. This is why we need multiple marathons in Singapore. Not so you can do all of them. So you can enter the one that best suits your needs. Let's say 5 hours, maybe 5.5, is the differentiating factor. It's true - the average finishing time for a Singapore marathon is around 6 hours. (NB: Rachel Toor's hilarious Running Times column on running a marathon here remains one of my favourite pieces on Singapore running ever. But don't ask me WHY the average finishing time is 6 hours - that is the subject of a whole nother rant.) I'm not going to say that's fast or slow because that is a pretty subjective judgement; some people can be walking a marathon on crutches or having recovered from a heart attack and they will take 6 or 7 hours. And other people can sign up a month before and roll out of bed and it's no sweat for them to come in under 3:30 (the universe is unfair).

But yeah, we need several marathons that are differentiated by relative speed/ cut-off times. People who want to finish in say 5 hours or less can do marathon A. People who think they will take 5 hours or more can do marathon B. Problem solved, ta-da! Except of course there are people who want to sign up for ALL THE THINGS.
3. One assumption unspoken but implicit in Tekko's decision to post people's photos and bib numbers is "You don't look like a runner". Never assume. I already got pissed off about this once with Shape last year. This person over at Runner's World did, too
4. Race rules should be clearly spelled out in information booklets - the intermediate cut-off times and points were just not clearly stated anywhere, even though a vague policy was. In contrast, for example, the Perth City to Surf marathon spells out the intermediate cut-off points.

Here's the policy from the Stanchart race website:
For Participants who are unlikely to finish the race within eight hours from the first flag off, race officials will divert the aforesaid Participants, at designated diversion points along the race route, to a shorter race route towards the finish gantry. For their own safety and to avoid being caught in between live traffic, Participants must obey as instructed, or else they will be pulled off the race course immediately. Finisher’s T-shirts (only applicable for the Marathon and Ekiden categories), medals and official race timings will still be issued to the aforesaid Participants. However they will NOT be issued their e-Certificate of Participation as they will be deemed disqualified.
In order to meet the requirements from the authorities to reopen the roads to public at designated times, we will divert runners to take a shorter running route if they do not cover the distance within a certain time.

WTF. This is totally baffling. There should be a CRYSTAL CLEAR cut-off policy: first, state where the cut-off points and times are! If you are stopped you should be able to ride a sweeper bus to get back to the finish line so you can pick up your bag and whatever food/ drink you need. Runners who don't make the time should NOT be rerouted to take a shorter route to the finish line - it sends the wrong message. 

And, uh, am I alone in thinking that a *finisher* shirt is totally different from a *participant* shirt? If you are a legit non-finisher, you still get a participant shirt because you paid, but you shouldn't get to take a finisher shirt and medal, and that should be stated clearly. I've DNFed a couple of races here and while I never even thought of taking a finisher shirt/ medal, I worry about what would happen if I tried. 

A Gold Label race should be held to international standards, not be a clusterf*(k every year, okay? It's getting kind of embarrassing. First you allow a guy who is a KNOWN cheat and was disqualified two years in a row to sign up again, now this. I give up, Stanchart. I give up. 

5. FINALLY, I am all for back-of-the-pack runners (after all, they're already doing better than people who never got off their couch), and I believe the back of the pack should have as good a race experience as the front of the pack, and I know some days it just isn't your day, but I also believe the runner has an obligation to train properly and do his best on race day, especially for something the length of a marathon. And on this one lone point I agree with Tekko completely. 

Am I just a grouchy curmudgeon? Do I get my curmudgeonly-old-lady badge now? 


  1. I'm baffled that this guy feels like he could recognize 4-hour marathoners. For one thing, there must be a gazillion of them. For another, what about out of town runners? So weird. I would have checked with the race organizers first on that one!

    1. Most of the >10,000 runners who do the marathon are from Singapore or Southeast Asia generally; not many people would voluntarily fly somewhere to do a marathon in 30C heat! But yes, there was a great big assumption leap in there.

      The incident does highlight a major problem with the race organisers though: letting non-finishers take a medal and shirt so they don't complain says that they care more about taking participants' race entry $ than about the marathon as a race.

  2. Sometimes I think people just need to keep their opinions to themselves. Really how did it affect him if they did cheat? And isn't it the responsibility of the race organisers to be onto that sort of thing? And as far as looking like a runner - we all come in different packages and there are some pretty fast people out there who don't look like a traditional distance runner.

    1. I *wish* the race organisers were on to cheating. But last year's incident when they let a known, previously disqualified cheat sign up again, plus this year's, say they are more interested in participant dollars than the actual spirit of the race. I also wish more participants would vote with their registration dollars. I am willing to shell out only for races I know are worthwhile, and sometimes I'll take a chance on small events in their first year.

  3. This is so crazy. I don't know much about this particular marathon, but all of your points seem completely legit to me. I've never seen people being re-routed -- there's usually a sweeper bus, right? As for the blogger, that just seems wrong. I mean, I've *personally* made those kind of judgments myself, but I would never say it outright, not to mention take photos and put it on my blog. (And just as a point of clarification, I've only ever thought this from a competitive standpoint, like when I'm racing and doing an out-and-back section and looking at the people ahead of me who don't "look" like they should be faster. It's more of a, "Hey Jen, don't let that person beat you" rather than, "That person MUST be cheating!!")

  4. Hi, just stumbled upon your blog. Glad you explained how wrong it was to public shame someone, especially when there was no prove, just someone's personal opinion. I am from Malaysia and there was a similar incident too on shaming supposed "cheaters" at one of the races.

    I have the same thoughts as Jen, the thought that a person is cheating doesn't occur to me while I am running at a race. I guess because that is not the spirit and state of mind I want to be in when doing something that is healthy for the mind. Don't we all hear enough gossiping, back biting at work etc, let's at least keep running time for healthy positive thoughts!